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August 16, 2011 4PM EST

Q&A with Gloria Steinem

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  • Q

    Welcome, Gloria Steinem, to your first HBO Connect Live Chat. Thanks for joining us today, the day after the HBO premiere of Gloria: In Her Own Words. We’re honored to have you here. Please do say hello!

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    It's great to have this conversation. The documentary was a gift and a one-way street but I'm glad this is two-way.

  • Q

    Are there any career fields that you would still like to see more women pursuing?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    I hope that women pursue what they love and feel magnetized by. That's what we're best at. We each have something unique to bring to the world. But I think many women who are gifted scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other mostly male professions don't get the encouragement to use their gifts. We're most poorly represented under engineers.

  • Q

    Hi Gloria! This is such an honor!! Did you ever consider running for a political office?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    No, I never did. I love to work in politics, but my job is to make politicians reasonable!

  • Q

    What women today inspire you and make you feel that the movement continues?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    There are so many, I couldn't name them. For instance, Ai Jen Poo of Domestic Workers United who has worked to honor and reward an overwhelmingly female and women of color profession. Or Emily May of Hollaback who has empowered women in the street, literally. Or Jessica and Vanessa Valenti of Feministing or Latoya Peterson of Racialicious. These are just the ones who come to mind this minute but there are hundreds. For instance, all the women of every age in SisterSong, a national women of color organization headquartered in Atlanta. So many!

  • Q

    Which of your books are you proudest of?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Not to be corny about it, but books are like children! Hard to pick one. Probably, Revolution From Within was the most challenging to write.

  • Q

    You are very rock and roll. Do you play an instrument. Ever fantasized about being in a band?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Thank you for the rock and roll---big compliment! I used to fantasize that I would be suddenly able to sing or play the piano, but that was fantasy based on movies. So many writers are disappointed rock musicians that there is a band with Stephen King and others called The Rock Bottom Remainders--three chords and an attitude is their slogan. But I didn't even get that far.

  • Q

    Do you have an opinion about Mommy blogging as it applies to feminism? I feel it finally gives a real voice to stay at home mothers, as well as working ones and every variation in between.

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Mommy blogging is a great community for mutual support, and also for making social change. For instance, in California mommy bloggers forced schools to keep military recruiters out of the classroom. However, I'll know we're advancing when we have daddy bloggers who are just as concerned with their kids.

  • Q

    A lot of people talk about post feminism. I'm curious to hear what post feminism means to you. Thank you so much!

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Post feminism is a term that I think was invented by the New York Times. Would they say post democracy? Obviously, we don't yet have feminism or democracy--both of which happen to be the same thing. We're not post racism either. Declaring change over is just the current form of opposition.

  • Q

    What would you say to someone younger (age 17,) such as myself, who wants to fight for womens rights as well, but has no idea where to start?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Usually, we're most defective where we know the most, hurt the most, and have the most hope of change. Only you know that. It might be suggesting feminist musicians, books, websites to your classmates. It might be putting the real statistics out there about plastic surgery. For instance, breast implants have a 25% complication rate, and increase by 400% your chances of needing more surgery within five years. Yet, young women feel pressured into asking for breast implants as a Sweet Sixteen gift. Female bodies are instruments, not just ornaments, so maybe emphasizing sports for girls in your school or social group would be a big help. Those are just random ideas. Follow your own anger and your own hopes.

  • Q

    What are ways you would suggest men can get involved in the gender equality movement without "taking over" ?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Yes, absolutely. When men think about and work against the ways gender roles also restrict them, then they're real allies. I always try to make a comparison for myself that has to do with race. As a white person, I think I became a better ally when I got mad on my own behalf--how dare society tell me who my friends could be? Where I can live? Who I should identify with? After that, I wasn't expecting gratitude---which is a burden---because I was doing it for myself as well as for the simple idea of justice. There are many groups of men working against male violence---not only against women, but against each other. Why should men have to be afraid of each other? Why should the "masculine" role shorten men's lives, which it definitely does? If you want to tell me what community you're in I can try to suggest men's groups in your area. And of course feminist support those groups, and vice versa.

  • Q

    As a college professor I'm increasing disheartened by conservative young women who believe that feminism is immoral. I'd appreciate any thoughts and/or encouragement to keep fighting the good fight.

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    I'm sure we have both learned that those young women didn't just make this up, it came from social lessons, and usually religious ones. Also young women are under maximum pressure to conform because women are potential and actual child-bearers when we're young, so we have the most social value. Those same young women may feel quite differently in ten years---women really do get more activist with age. Our pattern is the opposite of men's. So I would just urge you to keep asking them questions, recommending a wide variety of things to learn from, and showing that they have something to say because you, a respected professor, are taking time to listen. That will help them have confidence in their own true voices. And I thank you for asking, which shows you care.

  • Q

    You never seem to burn out from fighting for equal rights. How do you stay motivated?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    I have an advantage, which is travel. I get to see the real country, not just the country that is reflected in the media. Even looking at the public opinion polls makes you feel way better than listening to the media, which divide everything into two combatting sides. That's not real life. People are looking for solutions that work, and most people are overwhelmingly in favor of fairness. For instance, most wanted tax increases to help with the budget, it was just an extremist group in control of the Republican Party that didn't. Also it's important to have a group of people you meet with once a week or once a month that share your values, and make a kind of alternate family. We're all communal people. We suffer especially when we're isolated. It's the great gift of being a part of a movement that you laugh at each other's jokes, support each other, and so don't burn out.

  • Q

    Thank you for your many years of service. Could you touch upon issues that are unique to women as they age?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    Women suffer a bigger penalty with aging because we're still valued as potential and actual child-bearers and child-rearers. Of course men suffer from aging too, but if you look at the romantic pairings in movies, it's still OK for a man over 50 to be with a women 20 years younger---but vice versa? Not so much. That's the bad news. But the good news is that there is a freedom for women over 50---we're more free of the social role and its restrictions. It's why many women get more activist and also happier with age. Still, we have a long way to go---especially economically. Because women earn less and are more likely to have jobs without retirement, women of all races over 60 are still the single poorest demographic group.

  • Q

    What do you think about Michelle Bachmann as the first female president?

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    Gloria Steinem says:

    I want to see Michelle Bachmann treated fairly and defeated fairly. She in no way represents the majority of male opinion, and even less of female opinion. She also misuses the idea of sexism. For instance, when she was asked recently about her obedience to the biblical idea of submission to her husband---and she was asked by a conservative columnist---that was treated as a sexist question. It wasn't. John F. Kennedy was asked the same question about submission to the Vatican when he was campaigning for President. He responded with a full scale honest speech about the separation of church and state. She owes us such a speech. Instead, charges of sexism were used to obscure the fact that she gave no answer and tried to equate "submission" with "respect."

  • Q

    You radiate peace and calm. Do you have any physical/spiritual regimen. Yoga meditaion. This question is nosey but it's 166th down the queue. You'll probably never see it.

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    I can't say I have a regimen, though I do try to exercise 2-3 times a week---in addition to running through airports! If I seem calm, it doesn't always reflect what's going on inside me, but it does reflect growing up in the Midwest where people in general and my family in particular were not exactly expressive. When I first came to New York, it scared me that people said 3 times things that we in Ohio wouldn't dream of saying once! There is a great Mediterranean and Jewish tradition of humor and emphasis and over-emphasis here! But I still seem to be a Midwesterner at heart.

  • Q

    Sometimes I feel as though confronting people about sexist/racist/heterosexist remarks they make does not do much, and people don't take me seriously, or say "it was just a joke." How would you respond to such a remark?

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    There's nothing wrong with confronting, but I think it's not the first alternative. Try empathy. If that person is from a "minority" group try taking what was said about women and translating it to a judgment of that group. It may help them to see why it's hurtful. However, even if your naming of injustice doesn't work, it probably is a greater penalty if you don't say it, and then wonder what might have happened if you did. Also, you're paying the other person the honor of being honest with them.

  • Q

    How has your longterm friendship with Alice walker influenced your life?

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    Yes, the HBO special couldn't do everything, but I must say my life would not be complete without Alice. She is such a combination of honesty and empathy that she enlarges my understanding and sense of possibilities---even just to think about her, and certainly to read her words or to be with her. She's also full of joy and love of music and the beauty of the ordinary. There's a poem of her's with this thought: to love what is plentiful as much as what is rare---that could be our revolution. I hope that anyone who might not have read her work goes straight to a bookstore or to her website.

  • Q

    What was it like writing the introduction to Linda Lovelace's 1986 book "Out of Bondage"?

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    Writing that introduction was painful because it meant learning what had been done to Linda, and could be done to anyone who was held prisoner as she was. But now, the pain has spread because pornography has spread into the mainstream. When I'm on campuses, I see how hard it sometimes is for young women living in dorms where pornography is on so many young men's computers. I'm not talking about erotica, which has mutual pleasure, but pornography that conforms to its word---porne means female slaves---and like rape it's about dominance and power, not sex. For instance, it turns grown women into little girls with no pubic hair or grown-up labia---and sometimes pressures young women to think they should have their labia cut off, an operation that is rising in popularity but has not only no necessity, but actually reduces pleasure by cutting off nerve endings. That's just one of a thousand examples of the way that pornography endangers women especially, but also tries to hook men on dominance. Linda's movie was the first pornographic movie in the mainstream, but now it's in dorms, neighborhood theaters, and perhaps children's computers.

  • Q

    That concludes our Live Chat. A HUGE thank you to Gloria Steinem for participating. Any parting words?

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    I don't want pornography to win by ending on that last question. The truth is that you and I can create the change we want by living it everyday. If we want a future with better politics, we can form Democracy Circles that just use part of each week to work politically---democracy is like brushing your teeth, you have to do it everyday---and making sure we get into the voting booth, the one place where a billionaire and a out-of-work person are equal. And even more than that, if we want a future with humor and dancing and poetry and community, we can try to make each day have humor and dancing and poetry and community---well, if not everyday, at least every week! And don't forget, hope is a form of planning!

  • Q

    What's the single most important cause you're pursuing today?

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    A
    Gloria Steinem says:

    I see one last question about what's most important to me. I'm not sure I can make that judgment, only the future may tell me. But what's most interesting to me now are the original cultures---many Native Americans ones here or the Dalit in India or the Kwei and the San in southern Africa---that have so much we are trying to relearn. The paradigm is the circle not the hierarchy. Many of their languages don't even have gender. Of course, we can't go back, but I do think it helps to know that our problems are not due to human nature, most of human history was quite different---and so it could be again. Also on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/GloriaSteinem?sk=wall&filter=2, I put some current books that I found to be big aha's! And they can continue our conversation. There's also an action about Jeju Island, the Global Peace Island, off South Korea, that is endangered by a naval base; part of the U.S. arms race. This is something all of the movements are united on--- stopping the naval base---but it hasn't got much media exposure. So I did a New York Times Op-Ed piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/opinion/sunday/Steinem-the-arms-race-intrudes-on-a-south-korean-paradise.html?_r=3&ref=contributors If you feel moved to sign a petition you'll find one there.

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